BELMONT - Transporting natural gas out of eastern Ohio and northern West Virginia requires a large pipeline network, so hundreds of pipeliners are coming into the area to build this needed infrastructure.
Many pipeliners stay in hotels, rental housing or rural campgrounds specifically established to hold their RVs. However, some are now moving into communities like Belmont.
"Would the property owners want these people living next to their houses? No," said Belmont resident Paula McKivitz during a standing-room-only Tuesday Village Council meeting.
Tuesday, signs posted throughout the village urged residents to attend the meeting to express their concerns about the pipeliners living in campers scattered about the community. This is the specific point of contention in Belmont, as a few village property owners are installing campers on their land to rent living space to the pipeliners. Some nearby residents, like McKivitz, do not like this because they say the campers are too close to their homes - and could be filled with potentially problematic people.
"You no longer have privacy of any kind," said fellow concerned resident Maggie James.
As McKivitz and James pointed out, some campers are already in place, while others are planned for installation on the same lot as the closed village car wash at the corner of Main and Jefferson streets, owned by John Tacosik.
"I have a family of four down there. They get shunned everywhere they go. They are good people who just follow their jobs," said Jim Bob Lewis, who owns a site along Center Street where campers are located.
When McKivitz asked who would be doing background checks on the pipeliners, Mayor Richard Thompson told her that is up to the individual landlord, such as Lewis.
"Any problem we have with these people is going to come back on the landlords," Thompson said.
Thompson emphasized that state law allows the property owners to place three campers on a site. He said village officials would report anyone who exceeded this limit to state regulators.
Another concern, Thompson said, is that the village has no power to tax the individuals living in the campers, unless there is a concrete slab in place at the site.
"You are not going to get money for the fire and police department from these people," he said, noting the village now only has one police officer who works four hours per week.
After another resident asked council members to consider an ordinance banning future campers from being located in the village, Thompson said any ordinance involving the campers would require a 90-day reading period to allow all parties to have their voices heard on the matter.
"The one thing I don't want to do is get the town involved in a lawsuit. The way finances are, it wouldn't take much to wipe us out - and for (Belmont) County to come in and take over," he said.
Council took no action on the matter Tuesday.